Tuesday, November 04, 2008

HELL RIDE

Written by Fantasma el Rey

From writer/director/star Larry Bishop (yes, Joey’s son) comes Hell Ride! A romping, stomping, “whopper of a chopper opera” that moves fast and is filled with “bikes, beer, and booty.” It may not be fun for all, but if you find classic biker flix to your liking, then Hell Ride is the ride for you. There are no major plot twists or turns that come out of nowhere (Bishop is wise to leave that sort of thing to a guy like Scorsese), and there is a bit too many naked girls running around (if it’s truly possible to have too many) but for 83 minutes I was lost in the spaghetti-western, B-movie film-noir yarn of biker law and honor.

The plot is a simple one that revolves around the biker brotherhood of The Victors MC settling an old score with revived rival outlaw biker clan The Six-Six-Six-ers and its leader Billy Wings (Vinnie Jones). Cool names abound as Victors’ prez Pistolero (Bishop) attempts to finally close the case and keep his word to a murdered love (Cherokee Kisum played by Julia Jones) lost 32 years ago in a drug deal gone bad. With his two lieutenants, The Gent (Michael Madsen) and the young Comanche (Eric Balfour), who is more than he appears to be, at his side Pistolero aims to right past wrongs, purge his crew of traitors and turncoats, and put to rest some of the demons that have plagued his heart and soul for over 30 years.

Along the way the bonds of brotherhood are reaffirmed, throats are cut, people set a blaze, mysteries solved, and the outlaws ride off into the sunset to continue living the dream. There are also biker orgies to attend, booze to consume, wonderful weapons of all kinds to use, and old friends to revisit as the “classic” outlaw lifestyle of the never-ending party is played up as well as biker lore of how one earns their colors, wings, and other honors.

With 20 days and not a lot of cash to shoot this thing Bishop delivers a film that is at times a bit overplayed, hokey (the peyote scene), and a tad too deep into “the pussy,” yet overall entertaining. Bishop stays clear of tired antics to try and make his film appear as a lost gem of the past. There are no grainy film prints or missing frames. Just a simple attempt to continue and improve upon the way he made movies nearly 40 years ago when he put out films like The Savage Seven. Bishop has turned out a modern western with motorcycles replacing horses and leather vests in place of black hats.

The cast played a big part in the shaping of Hell Ride as well. If not already bike savvy, they became so while adding what they could to the characters they portrayed. Madsen is the strongest as The Gent, with his idea to play the role in a tux; as horrid as that sounds he pulls it off well. Dennis Hopper and David Carradine have small parts that stand out just as much as Leonor Varela and Laura Cayouette in roles of the important women in Pistolero’s life.

The DVD special features do a fine job in going into what Bishop was trying to do with Hell Ride and why those involved got on board. The extras also include a closer look at the authentic and very mean-looking bikes used in the movie as well as the chicks used in the film. There is also audio commentary that cracks open the wacky mind of Bishop who is fun to listen to as he explains his reasons and inspiration for certain shots and scenes.

So if a simple run through the desert with badass bikers, hot girls, and a straightforward story with a few holes sounds like a good time, check out Larry Bishop’s Hell Ride. I did and got a kick start out of it, but then again, I love such dirty, bloody, lowdown tales of outlaws that blur the lines of good and evil. Some are better than others, but if you can forget the world for an hour and a half and lose yourself in another one, then mission accomplished.

Comedy Central Salutes George W. Bush

Comedy Central has always been a great cable channel with tons of laughs, but our 43rd President really helped them shoot up to the top of the charts. There has been a plethora of material which George W. Bush has given comedians over the last eight years and here on this DVD is some of that laughter. It features a few stand-up comics like Lewis Black and Patton Oswald and also includes episodes from shows like Lil’ Bush, Mind of Mencia, and South Park. This collection has a lot to laugh at, and if you watch Comedy Central on a regular basis, you may have already seen what’s on here.

This DVD was just all right. The shows that are featured were good, but if they would have just featured Bush being himself it would have been a lot funnier. First off, there should have been more stand-up comics. These spotlights came from the shows Last Laugh '06 and '07. Come on, only these clips were the comics that ragged on Bush for the past eight years. Really? Black, Oswald, and Greg Geraldo when doing their stand-up still made me laugh, as well as Black’s Root of All Evil where the featured episode was “Dick Cheney vs. Paris Hilton”, but when it came to the South Park episode where Eric blames 9/11 on Kyle and they meet the President, it really wasn’t centered on the Bush. If you saying that you are highlighting the follies of W, then it would have been better to show him on the job. Oh, it was a funny South Park show, but the crazy twist to the end was half-assed at best and the President’s part was idiotic and not in a “decider” kind of way.

I watched the first season of Lil’ Bush and liked it but not enough to keep it on the “record” list for my DVR. One episode they picked out was the one where Lil’ George and crew go to Iraq to find something good to give to his dad on Father’s Day was weak, and though my short-term memory eludes me, I know there were other funnier episodes. Even the other episode where Lil’ George has to have a girl kiss him to win a bet gave me a chuckle, but it just wasn’t that funny.

When it came to the Mind of Mencia, again there were better clips that Comedy Central could have used, and considering that they used two episodes from Lil’ Bush and two from Bushed, they could have used those spaces on the disc to add a little more Mencia.
You would think, or at least I did, that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report would have a bunch of episodes included. Well, think again. The shows which were featured by both of these late-night monarchs could have been better, but “Marines in Berkley” and “Tip/Wag Afghanistan” were funny but there were better shows. I laugh every time I see bears as America’s number-one threat and when Jon does his Bush impersonation; Hee hee hee.

Yes, this DVD is funny, but it could have been better. If Comedy Central did it in a rush, it shows. A few comedians have stated that with Bush you couldn’t write better comedy, and some of the funniest things I have seen have been just Bush in action, like the infamous, “Fool me once…” quote where he ended it with a Who lyric. How do I rate this? If you see it in the discount bin and you’re as high as a kite, then get it. If not, then don’t worry about it, you aren’t missing anything.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Blu-ray)

Written by El Fangorio

This film sucks. I hate it. I gave it three chances: once in the theater on opening day, once at a drive-in, and this last time on Blu-ray. Each and every time, I hated it (with the drive-in being the most painless). And let me state for the record that I love the franchise almost as much as I love the Star Wars trilogy. I love them in the order that they were made (yes, Temple of Doom over Last Crusade; I am willing to fight over it) and find them pretty much flawless. Granted I was the perfect age for them but then so was everyone (parents included) and you would think that if Lucas and Spielberg decided that after 20 years, it was worth bringing Indy back, that it must have been for a hell of a good reason. Why did I think the man that used to be “George Lucas” (seriously, who is this hack imposter?) would be capable of pulling this off? He sucks. He takes great pleasure in taking something beloved and making it totally asinine. Did I mention yet how much this film sucks?

Let’s start with the mandatory-to-the-series opening shot where, in all three prior films, the opening Paramount logo (the mountain) dissolves into the opening shot of the film, matching it perfectly. In Raiders, it segues into a mountain in South America; in Temple of Doom, it’s a gong in the Club Obi-Wan; and in The Last Crusade, it becomes a cliff in some landscape from Indy’s past. This one opens up on a fucking CGI groundhog hill (you know because it costs so much to build a real one these days) and out pops a fucking CGI prairie dog (because apparently they’re extinct now) to let us know that from here on out, this film is going to blow.

Still, this apparent crossover from Over the Hedge is only the tip of the digitally manipulated iceberg. There are CGI monkeys (because real ones are invisible to the camera eye and cannot be filmed) and CGI giant ants (because real ones don’t exist because God knew how damn stupid they would look). There’s a big CGI triple-decker waterfall and everyone goes “whoooaaaaa” every time they go over a level, each time surfacing from the 500-story foot drops onto the jagged rocks below, unscathed and laughing. There’s also a CGI warehouse, a CGI Russian camp, a CGI jungle, a CGI plane, a CGI Classroom, a CGI Library, a CGI Mountain, a CGI temple with a big CGI entrance…the only thing that isn’t CGI are the actors which would have all been better off computer generated.

Starting with Harrison Ford. Did he have a stroke and not tell anyone? Throughout the entire film, he acts like a retarded old man that doesn’t understand what’s going on. The film could just as easily been called Regarding Henry Jones. As for the eagerly awaited return of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen)? Her performance is totally ruined, likely by an intake of anti-depressants from being out of work for so long. Seriously. She doesn’t stop smiling for the entire duration of the film and looks insane. As for their son Mutt, I have to admit, I was shocked to find that the one thing I thought could sink the film (I was so na├»ve) was actually the only thing that didn’t. Shia LaBeouf (“not quite a nerd, not quite a hunk”) is actually decent. His lines are all tailor-made for his already patented delivery so it’s kind of hard to fail on his part. Wait a minute, he totally sat back and let George and Steven run this idea by him and said “I’ll do it”: We want you to swing on CGI vines with CGI monkeys through a CGI jungle. So forget what I said. Shia LaBeouf, you’re an asshole! Oh yeah, Cate Blanchett is in it and believe it or not, she sucks. She does. Watch it and tell me how scary she is compared to Raiders’ Toht, Doom’s Mola Ram, and Last Crusade’s…well, just compare her to those first two. She sucked! And oh my god….John Hurt. I’ll say he did, too. What an awful, awful role.

And what an awful, awful film (for lack of a better transition). Still, George and Steven have a pretty good excuse: they’re almost 70 years old. Swear to god. How many films does your grandpa direct? Whatever. Lucas has been rolling out the stinkrockets for a loooong time now. He is no longer “George Lucas”. He is one of the lizards from V (that’s a guinea pig lodged in his throat) that plans on making the whole world CGI. As for Spielberg, he made Jaws (and about 15 other total masterpieces), but that doesn’t excuse his going along with this script. To think he actually sat there and listened to George suggest that Indy should survive an atomic fucking blast by hiding in a refrigerator (“we’ll show a close-up of the label on the door indicating that it’s made of lead so we should be fine”)? Next time, just keep it to yourselves. You are obviously too out of touch with today’s film audience, which is pretty much the same one you entertained the first three times out of the park.

Indian Jones and the Crystal of the Kingdom Skulls of Tinytown (or whatever the hell it’s called) is on Blu-ray. Hoo-ray. And like my dear old grandmother used to say, “You can’t polish a turd.” It’s still the same film so who cares? And truth be told, I wasn’t that impressed with the picture quality. Yes, you can see detail down to the individual hairs on their heads, the tiny threads of their costumes, the deep cavernous wrinkles of the skin on almost all of the actors but everything else around them is fake and now really looks like it. And director of photography Janusz Kaminski’s typical unrestrained lighting schemes do not help. The promise Spielberg made early on in production that he and Kaminski were going to try their best to make this film look like the originals? All lies. Yes, they shot on film (instead of digital) but they still ran it through a computer and manipulated the hell out of it. Check out the subtle lighting in just the classroom scene. Those students are literally glowing like something from the afterlife. It’s this kind of photography (hyper-overexposure) that is the proverbial smoke and mirrors as it helps to blend what is real and what is digital but it’s as if the format is working against it, revealing all its digital trickery.

As for the audio, you really can’t go wrong here. Granted the skin-crawling banter between Ford and Allen is there in all it’s TrueHD 5.1 glory but then so are the action sequences that at least sound real even if they do look like a video game. The score by regular collaborator John Williams isn’t as memorable as you’d like (okay, you hum the new theme then) but it sounds great and is never incidental. So if you’re into purchasing Blu-rays based solely on sound design, or if you’re blind, then I would definitely recommend this purchase. But only you guys.

As for the special features available, all are taken over from the standard DVD release except they are all shown in HD which is always nice even if it like putting a silk scarf on a pig in this case. There’s a Pre-Production Featurette (11:00) and a plain old featurette titled “The Return of a Legend” (17:34) along with a longer production diary titled “Making Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” which clocks in at a healthy 80 minutes. There is absolutely no mention of Harrison Ford’s stroke, Karen Allen’s addiction to goofballs, or Lucas and Spielberg’s playing an enormous joke on the fans so I wouldn’t trust anything this “special” feature has to say. Also, divided into six parts (to make it look longer) are various clips about various crap (most of it CGI). There are also three pre-vis sequences that prove how difficult it is to film actual animals and locations and why everything from now on should be CGI. There are two art galleries and one of these is easily the only worthwhile thing on the release: Stan Winston Studio. Okay, I have to go cry now ‘cause he’s dead. It was this film that did it I tell you. Last but not least, there are some production photos showing everyone having a good time at the expense of the fans. There are also portraits and behind-the-scenes photographs, which apparently aren’t the same as production photos.

So what are you running for? Sit, don’t stand and reconsider watching this film lest you risk tarnishing the admiration you have for this franchise and its creators. It’s a serious mess with flaws of such a ridiculous level. Seriously, the kind you only see in poorly made films (how in the fuck did Indy and Mutt go from that holding room where Hurt’s character was supposed to be to the top of that mountain where all the idiots hop in and out of holes?). Here’s to hoping that Lucas holes himself up at the Skywalker Assisted Living Ranch and that Spielberg’s hearing aide is turned off the next time his buddy has a great idea for a movie.